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When to stop reading

I am a person who stops reading books constantly. I have whole shelves of books that I started reading and then forgot about because something else more exciting came along. They’re my, “I’ll go back to that eventually” books. I almost never go back. There are too many new books!

It’s not like I’m reading much of those books before abandoning them either. I’ll get a chapter in and then think, “Hey! Wait! I have the new Colum McCann here somewhere!”

The point is, I’m not precious about books, and I have never been and will never be the sort of person who feels that he must finish every book that he started. So I was surprised that when I found an article on BookRiot.com about “deal breakers” that readers have, I got a little bristly!

The article lists “inappropriate treatment of suicide” as a reason to stop reading a book. Which to me sounds like, “I have very specific ideas about how and when this issue can be discussed, and I would not like to be challenged on this point.” Another reason to stop reading a book is because a female character cries all the time. I get that they’re suggesting they don’t like misogynist books, but say that. Don’t say you don’t like depictions of weepy women; say you don’t like ALL women being depicted as weepy. Most bizarre is the suggestion that one stop reading because a book doesn’t acknowledge LGBTQ relationships. Au revoir, Dickens. See you later, Austen…

I get it. Mostly the list is saying that these folks quit reading if they’re offended by something. Me? I like a bit of provocation, but maybe that’s just my thing. More upsetting to me was the comment from someone who said they don’t like reading about characters they don’t like. That is a frequent criticism, and it’s one that drives me a little crazy. It’s so limiting! The last two books I read were Alissa Nutting’s peek into the mind of a female sexual predator, TAMPA, and Peter Stenson’s meth addicts in the post-apocalypse novel FIEND. Not a likeable soul in either book, but both were fascinating, discomfiting, challenging reads.

I think it boils down to this: I abandon books all the time if they don’t grab hold of me. Once I’m invested, though, I’ll stick with something. The idea of a checklist of reasons you might stop reading, though…that just seems limiting.

But maybe it’s just me. What about all of you? When/why do you give up on books?

8 Responses to When to stop reading

  1. Katie says:

    I’m writing this while my kids watch “Weck it Walf” not a misspelling, just how they say it.

    Up until this summer, I’ve finished almost every book I’ve started, and not because I wanted to, but because it felt wrong not to finish. Something about the value of the words, the authors time, wanting to finish before making a judgement. That said, Nobody got time for that!

    I’m not easily offended, though easily scared, so I typically don’t read horror. Erotica isn’t my thing – what’s the point really. I read for truth, depth and meaning. Colum McCann described the life of prostitution in “Let the Great World Spin” without going there with useless sexual depictions. He challenged me, really, as a writer to think about why I put certain scenes in my stories.

    Back to the question. I’ve only stopped reading one book this summer. Still planning to go back to it. Abandonment issues – ha!

  2. Joelle says:

    I too stop reading books all the time! In about 2004 I designed a reading program for myself to help teach me how to write (voice was working for me, but structuring a novel was a challenge – hell, it still is!). I read about 400 books over three years, all pretty much contemporary YA and some MG. That’s when I realized I was not going to waste my time on books I didn’t like.

    During those years, I did give a book 50 pages. I figured even if I thought a book was bad, I could learn something from it, and sometimes, they would redeem themselves and I’d end up finishing.

    Now, and maybe because I’m getting older and I see that I only have so much time (hopefully a lot, as I’m only 45), I am not so willing to waste time on books I’m not enjoying. I’ve given books as few as 3 pages and as much as 175 pages before walking away. No matter how many times I try, I can only read one novel at a time, so if something more interesting comes along and the one I’m reading can’t keep me, I’m outta there.

    While I don’t have a list of reasons why I put a book down, I would say if it’s too dark for me, or has gratuitous violence, I’ll stop reading. And also…I have a lot of trouble reading books written in “teen talk” or text or without any caps (Will Grayson, Will Grayson had me hooked at the beginning, but I couldn’t wade through the no caps and gave up).

    The only time I really quit a book because I’ve been offended is when an author makes a cheap joke about someone having Tourette Syndrome (spelled Tourette’s nine times out of ten, which is technically wrong) when they swear or act spastic. That just pisses me off. I generally will keep reading, but several books have lost me after that joke because I just kept looking for a reason to quit until I found one.

  3. emeraldcite says:

    If I don’t care what happens to the characters by the end of Act I (around 100 pages), I ditch. I won’t abandon ship in the first chapters unless the voice is grating or I just can’t stand a character. But I do try to give it some leeway.

  4. RamseyH says:

    Wow, what a surprise… we have the same reading habits! I just go for Kindle samples, though, so I don’t have loads of unread books lying around.

    Basically my only dealbreaker is this: by the end of the sample, do I feel like I need to read the next page? If I don’t HAVE to, I don’t.

    So most of the books I read? I REALLY REALLY like. (Though I have been completely disappointed a time or two – Last Werewolf, I am looking at YOU.)

  5. Kevin A. Lewis says:

    I generally see a book through, although I did bail out of Let The Right One In because of all the way-too-much-information moments of what it feels like to be a pederast. Sounded like somebody’d been doing some author research in some places I didn’t want to go so I bailed. I’ve found more of a problem with agenda-driven agents and editors who have a particular bee in their bonnets that comes before any commercial considerations; One agent who optioned a YA book several years ago about some kid who dressed up in his sister’s underwear (I swear I’m not making this up) and imagined himself to be a butterfly or something still proudly displays this on her website as if it was a real triumph. I was working at Borders for the two minutes this book was on the shelves, and even the cheerleader’s companionistas were saying stuff like, “Are you KIDDING me?! Didn’t they do a HORROR MOVIE about something like this not too long ago?! Puleeese!!!”

  6. Tara says:

    I will stop reading a book if it fails to keep my interest or if the writing style doesn’t suit me. I find it considerably insane to stop reading a book because of unlikable characters. I don’t like any of the leading characters in Wuthering Heights but it is on my top five list.

    I agree that it seems like the contributors to that list of reasons not to finish a book stop reading when they have become offended and that is what is wrong with the world, today. Heavens forbid we ever become offended! Oh no! I’m guessing none of them are fans of Jonathan Swift if being offended turns them off of literature.

  7. Gill Avila says:

    The only book I not only stopped reading but actually threw away in disgust was The Killer AKA Lingard by Colin Wilson. It was so sordid it made me feel foul, and I like most of Wilson’s work.

  8. D. C. DaCosta says:

    Reasons I quit reading:
    – poor writing (no command of sentence structure)
    – inaccuracies in facts (didn’t do the research)
    – gratuitious sex and violence
    – crass descriptions of sex scenes (this can be done tastefully, folks!)
    – obvious where the plot is going, without the characters being interesting enough to make up for it

    In short — when the author has been LAZY and the “editor” (if here was one) doesn’t know his job.

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